Purpose of review: Current research and clinical developments on hematogeneous micrometastasis in breast cancer patients are summarized.
Recent findings: Distant metastasis is the leading cause of cancer-related death in breast cancer and bone marrow is a common homing organ for blood-borne disseminated tumor cells derived from primary breast carcinomas. Sensitive immunocytochemical or molecular assays now allow the detection of single disseminated tumor cells in bone marrow or the peripheral blood at a frequency of 10 and these cells are detected in 10-60% of breast cancer patients without clinical or even histopathologic signs of metastasis. Recently, evidence has emerged that the detection of disseminated tumor cells and circulating tumor cells may provide important prognostic information, and in particular might help to monitor efficacy of therapy. Moreover, the characterization of disseminated tumor cells/circulating tumor cells has shed new light on the complex process underlying early tumor cell dissemination and metastatic progression in cancer patients.
Summary: Research on disseminated tumor cells/circulating tumor cells will help to identify novel targets for biological therapies aimed at preventing metastatic relapse and to monitor the efficacy of these therapies. In particular, understanding tumor dormancy and identifying metastatic stem cells might result in the development of new concepts for antimetastatic therapies.